Apple responds to location tracking accusations

Tech News from FinallyFast

Apple has released a detailed Q& A statement explaining how the company uses location data, an issue that has had many customers annoyed since last week when researchers revealed that the company’s iPhone contains a hidden data file that stores latitude, longitude, and even timestamps.

The company explains that they are not actually tracking the location of their smartphones (which was also stated in an email from Steve Jobs), and states that it is partly to blame for the uproar due to the fact that they hadn’t fully educated users to understand the complex technical issues with providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information:

“The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.”

Apple goes on to say that they cannot use the system to identify where their users are actually located, and that the entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone, so an appropriate cache is downloaded onto each iPhone. Apple admits that storing the cache for such a long time was a bug that will be fixed, and that another bug resulted in the iPhone continually updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database even after users turned off Location Services on their phone.

Despite the fact that they are not actually tracking users, Apple says it will release a free iOS software update sometime in the next few weeks that reduces the size of the Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone, start encrypting and refrain from backing up this cache, and delete it entirely when Location Services is turned off by the user.

A class action suit was filed earlier this week accusing the Cupertino, California company of invasion of privacy and computer fraud and secretly recording movements of iPhone and iPad users.

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